Zellweger syndrome: diagnostic assays, syndrome delineation, and potential therapy

Am J Med Genet. 1986 May;24(1):69-82. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.1320240109.


Patients with the cerebrohepatorenal syndrome of Zellweger lack peroxisomes and certain peroxisomal enzymes such as dihydroxyacetone phosphate acyltransferase in their tissues. Deficiency of this enzyme, which is necessary for glycerol ether lipid synthesis, provides a biochemical method for recognizing patients with subtle manifestations of Zellweger syndrome and suggests the utility of exogenous ether lipid precursors as a therapeutic strategy for these children. We describe the results of glycerol ether lipid supplementation to two children, one with classic Zellweger syndrome and 9% of control fibroblast dihydroxyacetone phosphate acyltransferase activity, and one with mild facial manifestations, wide sutures, hypotonia, developmental delay, hepatomegaly, peripheral retinal pigmentation, and 50% of control fibroblast dihydroxyacetone phosphate acyltransferase activity. An increase in erythrocyte plasmalogen levels following therapy was clearly demonstrated in the milder patient, and neither patient showed evidence of toxicity. Evaluation of therapy by comparison to the usual clinical course of Zellweger syndrome was not helpful because of the variability and incomplete documentation of 90 previously reported cases. The literature survey did provide criteria for classic Zellweger syndrome, which include hypotonia with or without deformation of limbs, large fontanels and split sutures, prominent forehead, flattened facial profile with hypoplastic supraorbital ridges, anteverted nares, highly arched palate, cryptorchidism or labial hypoplasia, hepatomegaly or elevated liver enzymes, peripheral pigmentation of the retina, renal cortical cysts, and characteristic neuropathology involving decreased myelinization, abnormal neuronal migration, and sudanophilic macrophages. Less severe patients, as exemplified by our case 2 and others from the literature, will not have all the classic features and can be recognized only by a growing panel of biochemical indicators. Our patient studies illustrate the complexity of designing comprehensive therapy for Zellweger-like conditions, suggest other diseases that may involve peroxisomal alterations, and emphasize the need for multicenter, collaborative studies to evaluate biochemical heterogeneity and therapy of peroxisomal disorders.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adrenoleukodystrophy / diet therapy*
  • Adrenoleukodystrophy / enzymology
  • Diffuse Cerebral Sclerosis of Schilder / diet therapy*
  • Electroretinography
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Ethers
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / enzymology
  • Head / abnormalities
  • Hepatomegaly
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Lipids / therapeutic use*
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Male
  • Ophthalmoscopy
  • Phenotype
  • Plasmalogens / blood


  • Ethers
  • Lipids
  • Plasmalogens